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Murder Of 2 NYPD Officers Widens Rift Between Mayor, Police Union


When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a hospital the other day, police officers there turned their backs on him in silent protest. It's the hospital where two officers were taken. They had been shot and killed in their squad car in Brooklyn. The tension with the mayor may stem in part from what he told his biracial teenage son, to be wary when dealing with the police. And there's the fact that de Blasio has supported recent protests over the police killings of unarmed black men, though the mayor has now called for a pause in those demonstrations. Yesterday de Blasio called on city residents to help prevent violence against police.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO: The attack on these two officers, the assassination of these two officers was an attack on the city of New York as a whole, on every one of us, on our values, on our democracy. We cannot tolerate such attacks. Anyone with the ability to help us stop them must step forward.

GREENE: But de Blasio's tense relationship with the police could complicate the healing. And to talk about that relationship, we've reached Jim Dwyer. He writes the "About New York" column for The New York Times. Jim, thanks for coming on the program.

JIM DWYER: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So after these two officers were killed, the head of the NYPD's main police union, Patrick Lynch, said de Blasio has, quote, "blood on his hands." That's made a lot of headlines, really strong language. Can you help us understand de Blasio's history with the police force and where a statement like that might have come from?

DWYER: Sure. De Blasio's specific history with the police department is that he ran a campaign last year saying that the practices of the last decade or so, in which literally hundreds of thousands of people every year were stopped and searched, would be ended, brought to an end. And some of the police unions started complaining about that during his campaign, and then he came into office and he initiated it.

And since then I think the real underlying problem de Blasio has had with the cops is that they don't have a contract, and they haven't had one for quite a while. As a whole bunch of labor unions are in a similar spot in the city, but one by one de Blasio's worked through all of those contracts and gotten to deals with them including some of the superior officers in the police department. But the main patrol union doesn't have one.

GREENE: Now this sounds like a very important point here. I mean, you were talking about the so-called stop-and-frisk policy, which a lot of people complained targeted minorities and African-Americans in the city of New York, which is a racial component. But you're also saying that a contract dispute really is part of the context here in addition to sort of the racial element? I mean, it just seems like a pretty extreme reaction to a contract dispute.

DWYER: It's been - it's been part of the dynamic in New York City for decades, as long as I've been covering city hall. police unions go after mayors, hammer and tooth - over the failure to reach a deal that they consider satisfactory. And there's a lot of bloodcurdling language used during these contract disputes. In this case, you really have to see what was said on Saturday, almost this, you know, grief being used as a megaphone in these negotiations.

GREENE: Let me just ask you, we had Eric Adams on the program yesterday, the Brooklyn Borough president, veteran NYPD police officer. I mean, he said the police union and the mayor just have to figure out a way to get along in a very tense moment. Do you see that as possible?

DWYER: I see it as inevitable. The police union and the police department is really now more reflective of the city than at any time in its history. And what you hear from the police union leadership is not necessarily what you're going to hear always from the rank-and-file. A lot of people in the rank-and-file did not enjoy being screamed at during the protests, and some of the fringe elements who are, you know, especially harsh and violent in their language. On the other hand, a lot of the newer, younger cops are of a race and generation that would have been stopped and searched had they not been in the police department.

GREENE: That is what is so interesting here. And I know you've written about this and touched on it. The two police officers who were killed - one Latino, one Asian-American - I mean, what does that tell us about the New York City Police Department right now? And sort of what does that make you think about when you see such a difficult and sad moment like this?

DWYER: Well, you have people from 50 different countries in any police graduating class these days. It's really an astounding thing. But - and I think that the tragedy of what happened to the two officers on Saturday reflects the particular dangers that cops of any race have - right? - because it really didn't matter what color they were to the gunman. He just came and, you know, and was shooting at their uniforms basically.

GREENE: You talked about this incident sort of taking us back in time in New York City to a place and a period of history that we sort of thought we had gotten past. Tell me more about that.

DWYER: New York in the early '70s and a lot of big cities in this country, there were targeted assassinations of police that went on - New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and probably some other places. But I was a kid at the time, but I especially remember the ones that took place in New York. And it was staggering. I mean, there was one week where two cops who were guarding the Manhattan district attorney's home were machine-gunned. Fortunately they survived. And that same week two other cops were essentially assassinated with people coming up behind them and shooting them on the street. It was staggering when you think back on it.

I don't think we're anywhere near that. For one thing, those assassinations were part of an organized, intentional effort by a splinter group - so-called Black Liberation Army - and they had an infrastructure of support. The man who killed these officers on Saturday and then killed himself does not seem to have been part of any group. He seems to have been a very alienated individual who, you know, couldn't connect with his own family or his friends. He just was a lost person.

GREENE: And that does seem like one of the traps that we could fall into here, to look at this moment as saying that the city of New York was so angry, it spilled over into a violent crime. I guess some are saying that this violence and the police - against the police - as awful as it was, was an individual.

DWYER: Well, there's no question that, you know, while you had at the fringes of the protests over the last of three or four weeks, you've had some really ugly rhetoric directed at the cops, there was clearly no sentiment among the broad body of the protesters to commit violence against anyone like that. And, you know, they're very bound-up in this fraught moment, the assassination of the police officers on Saturday and the protest movement. But when you look at them, you know, they really are separate strands of human behavior.

GREENE: Jim Dwyer, thanks very much.

DWYER: My pleasure.

GREENE: He writes the "About New York" column for The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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